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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 23 September, 2019
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Eat stalks and leaves: Fennel is the veg that keeps on giving

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with fennel, a great summer vegetable.

Michael Kelly Grower

WORTH GROWING FOR its pretty foliage alone, florence fennel also offers the bonus of its delicious, white, aniseed-flavoured bulb.

It’s a little tricky to grow, but definitely worth a try. It has a relatively short growing season and will be ready to eat in four months.

Sowing

Fennel is a Mediterranean crop that will get confused and bolt if exposed to fluctuating or low temperatures. So, for me it’s typically something I only sow in the summer months.

Fennel needs to be harvested once ready, so there’s no point in sowing too much of it. A couple of succession sowings between late May and mid July will do the trick.

Fennel seedlings are very sensitive to root disturbance – sow a couple of seeds in each module of a seed module tray about 1cm deep. If more than one germinates in each module, remove the weaker one.

Growing

About a month after sowing (when the seedlings are hardy), it’s time to plant them out. If the temperatures are still low outside, you can delay planting by a few weeks by potting them into individual pots.

Source: Jorge Luis Zapico/Flickr Creative Commons

Harden off the seedlings well before planting out. Grow in full sun. Add well-rotted manure or compost to the soil in late spring. Space the plants 35cm apart. Water, mulch and weed.

If you’re feeling particularly attentive, earth up the stems as they swell to blanch and sweeten them.

Harvesting

Expect bulbs to be ready 14-16 weeks after sowing (the bulb should be 7cm across).

Cut the bulb off at ground level. Further, feathery shoots will appear which can be used as celery/dill-flavoured seasoning in the kitchen.

Snip the leaves off the bulb – if you leave them on, they draw the moisture out of the bulb. The bulb is best eaten sweet, ripe and fresh but it will also keep for several days in the fridge.

Recommended Varieties

Rondo F1, Perfection, Romanesco.

Problems

Slugs are a problem at seedling stage. Cold spells and dry weather will cause bolting.

GIY Tips

  • Urbanites rejoice, for fennel can be grown in 13cm-deep pots.
  • It’s a three-in-one veg – the bulb, the celery-like stalks and the feathery leaves can all be eaten.

Recipe of the Week – Orange and Fennel Salad

Source: Alice Henneman/Flickr Creative Commons

Fennel is such a seasonal treat that when I do manage to grow some I am looking for recipes that don’t tart it up too much – I want to taste that aniseedy deliciousness in all its glory.

I love the freshness and simplicity of this salad; a plateful of citrus and crisp green dotted with salty roasted olives. Taken from ‘Sicily’ by Pamela Sheldon Johns, it serves 8.

Ingredients

  • 8 oranges, peeled, pith removed, cut into rounds
  • 3–4 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, fronds reserved
  • 100g roasted olives

For the dressing

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon, strained
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a bowl, then season to taste.

Put the orange rounds into a separate bowl. Add the fennel and olives.

Drizzle with dressing, and serve.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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